How to Get the CFA® Charter for Free (By Convincing Your Firm to Pay For It)

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By Zee

When I was attempting my Level II, I was feeling mighty poor.

I had just left my role in finance and I wanted to try my hand at something else that had caught my attention – advertising. Weird, I know.

Although my experience was purely in finance at that point (and not a lot at that) I managed to secure several offers, one of which was a really interesting role at one of the largest advertising groups in the world.

Although excited about accepting this offer, I decided to continue pursuing the CFA charter as a safeguard in case my venture into advertising simply turned out to be a misguided detour.

However, after shifting out of my role in finance I didn’t feel particularly well funded to scare up the $2,000 or so for Level II fees and study materials. My previous company, having encouraged us to take up CFA exams, funded the whole thing for my Level I exams – as long as I passed.

It was during this time – me in this state of flux between my two roles, gloomily pondering my options on how to finance my Level II – that a foreign part of my brain fired up an idea: Since my previous company financed it, wouldn’t my new company do it too?

Yes, but that was a financial services company, you fool, I mentally replied.


So, what kind of advertising company wants to finance a CFA charter for an advertising role?

They might still be open to it, if you knew how to argue your case. They were open to you joining them, after all.

Well. That was a good point. I thought about it for a bit more, and began to work out a plan of action.

Once I put my head to it and plodded through the research, I found that it was possible. 2 weeks later, I happily walked through the doors to my new role, with an agreement that covered my CFA exam fees plus all necessary extra study materials needed up to a reasonable amount (I ended up using about $1,000 on extra materials). This was all provided with no pass requirement whatsoever, and I didn’t have a bond to stay with the company after the qualification. It was a thing of beauty.

How did I manage all this? That’s what this article is about – making sure you pass your exam without breaking your bank.

Get Full Bang for your Buck

Most candidates finance their exams in one of two ways:

  1. They are taking the CFA exams as part of a company program and the company is paying for it.
  2. They are financing it themselves.

This post is mainly for the latter group – it can really be an expensive process overall – about $2,500 to $8,500, and many candidates give up halfway simply because the combination of the high failure rate and cost of retaking overwhelms them. If you can neutralize the cost factor, that leaves you more time to concentrate on passing.

Try for Company Sponsorship

The most obvious way to finance your CFA program is to get support from your firm.

Study the benefits section of your company T&Cs carefully to see what options there are for tuition reimbursement – often there is some flexibility to what is a qualification that is ‘crucial’ to your role. This will then depend on your relationship with your manager (or whomever that approves your reimbursement) – that will be the person you’ll have to convince.

Be sure to word your emails and what you say in the subsequent discussions carefully. Remember: this is by far the step with the highest monetary impact, you have the chance to completely finance your qualification in one fell swoop so do it right! The main points you should be covering are outlined below.

Highlight the benefits to them

As long as you’re in a current role, there are benefits that a CFA charterholder employee can bring to the company. I don’t care how distant the industry may seem – as long as you spend some time thinking about it I guarantee there will be some good points. We’ve included some generic points below to seed your brainstorm:

The CFA charter enables you to:

  • Take on more analytical assignments and enhance existing work processes
  • Add a financial angle and capability to your current role
  • Lead discussions with more expertise and authority
  • The CFA charter improves the company’s professional image when you work with clients

Again, I stress: you must put time and thought into selling the benefits of the CFA program hard. Be it making better investments for the firm, developing towards management, helping out on the day-to-day accounting, setting up financing structures – remember, the end goal is to convince!

Alleviate their concerns

The main issues that managers are concern with when discussing tuition reimbursement for the CFA charter are fairly predictable:

  • It is not relevant to the role. See the benefits section above – it is your job to go into the discussion armed with many, many points on why the CFA program is relevant to your current role.
  • It costs a lot. The US Census Bureau data states that the value of an average degree is $30,000 and growing. The CFA charter, being a prestigious post-graduate qualification comparable to an elite MBA, will be 10x more valuable and costs only about $1,500-$2,000 a year. At most.
  • It’s difficult to pass and it might take time away from work hours. Emphasise the study-from-home format of the CFA charter vs other qualifications such as the MBA and the fact that study hours will be evenings and weekends, rather than work hours.
  • Uncertainty on whether you will stay with the firm after you pass your exam. If this is a serious concern with your employer, you can work out a contract that states you will stay for X years after the exam or repay the costs pro-rata. Additionally, once a charterholder, you would be able to tap into the CFA Institute’s network to gain access to potential new employees for your current company – hence the company gains rather than loses talent.

Also apply for scholarships

There  are various scholarships available for CFA program candidates directly from the CFA Institute:

  • The CFA Institute Access Scholarship: to provide financial support to those who may be unable to afford the full price for program enrollment and exam registration.
  • The CFA Institute Awareness Scholarships: role-based scholarships available to students, women, regulatory agency employees, university educators and media organization employees.

These scholarships can be undersubscribed so it’s definitely worth applying for them. You can read our guide to CFA Institute scholarships here.

Play your remaining cards

If the discussion is still not going well, or if your manager still has concerns, there are a few extra cards to play.

  • “I’ll pay it back if I leave the company early.” As mentioned before, negotiate a pro-rata payback if staying with the company is a concern.
  • “No pass, no pay.” Eliminate the risk of financing a failed attempt by offering your company a guarantee. Many providers also provide a similar guarantee so the risk is somewhat mitigated. You can check out reviews of our recommended providers here.
  • “Can I have some time off then?” If your company can’t budge on covering fees, materials and time off, try and settle for extra time off, which can be more valuable to you overall, and easier to process for them.

Does your company sponsor your CFA program? Need more tips on how to do it? Share your thoughts below!


4 thoughts on “How to Get the CFA® Charter for Free (By Convincing Your Firm to Pay For It)”

  1. Hi,
    I work in a business process reengineering department in a bank. Kindly suggest what strategies to use to convince my head for a reimbursement.

    Thanks in advance!

    • If your company is a financial institution, show them how knowledge from the CFA program will help you better complete your daily projects. “I’d be able to add feature X into project Y, and also build a more robust version of Z because of my CFA knowledge!”


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